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01 Feb 2023

What We Dislike
Only 2,500 are going to be made, and they are all probably already sold out

The 911 Dakar is a genuinely capable and incredibly fun off-road sports car that represents a stunning encapsulation of passion, joy, and love.

When you think about Porsche and motorsport, there's plenty of road-racing history (and success) to look at. Whether it's the GT3 works race cars, Le Mans success, customer racing programs, even several stints in F1, Porsche has a celebrated motorsport heritage.

One thing that's perhaps not front-of-mind for most people is rallying. Which isn't to say that Porsche hasn't been involved in rallying.

The 911 Dakar takes inspiration from and pays homage to the original 953 (left) that won the 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally
The most famous rally raid is the Dakar Rally (formerly known as the Paris-Dakar Rally). And, back in 1984, Porsche actually built a car to specifically compete in that edition - the Porsche 953, a heavily modified, all-wheel drive version of a 911. And, it won on its first go.

The 953 was an important car for Porsche - it was the first model to be fitted with an all-wheel drive system, and was the precursor to the widely celebrated 959.

That goes some way to explain why we have this particular car today, in 2023 - the all new Porsche 911 Dakar.

Rising to the occasion

The 911 Dakar has been fully engineered to go off-road, thanks to extensive engineering and a raised ride height
This is a thoroughly engineered car designed for off-roading, and it sure looks the part. Raised 50mm thanks to redesigned suspension, the 911 Dakar also gets all kinds of external armour to deal with the rigours of off-tarmac adventures. I also happen to think it looks fantastic, particularly with the Rallye Design Package (paying loving homage to the classic Rothmans livery).

But let's not get bogged down in technical details (you can read about them here) - what's most important is how this car drives.

I had exactly 25 hours in Morocco, but even in that brief time I can tell you that the 911 Dakar is an absolute hoot off-road. It is quick, predictable, responsive, and agile in a way you expect a 911 to be, except of course all that is done on gravel and sand, not just on tarmac.

The car's migthy ability to claw traction out of soft Saharan sand gives you ample dune bashing confidence
It's spectacular the way the car claws out traction on the soft sand, and because you have a 3.0-litre flat-six at the command of your right foot, power can be (and typically is) the answer to any uncertain dune climbs. And while the car is raised an extra 30mm in Offroad mode, because it is light, compact, and all things considered still quite low-slung, you really do still feel like you're sitting in a proper sports car. 

What I found most fascinating is how obviously capable the 911 Dakar is. You're never fighting the car. It's the tyres, and also extremely smartly calibrated electronic systems, but there's always an overwhelming sense of control and predictability. It is really, really good - the engineering here is top-notch and well-executed.

And it is so incredibly fun - 'full lock slides climbing sand dunes in the Sahara Desert in a 911' is not a sentence I ever imagined typing, and yet here it is.

Fun, responsive and still always predictable, the 911 Dakar might be the ultimate all-weather, all-terrain sports car
On tarmac, it is a familiar 911 experience. Yes, it's a little taller, and there's more tyre noise because of the off-road tyres, but beyond that it's largely a familiar and identifiable experience. Steering is sharp and responsive, the car firm but well-modulated over bumps, and through bendy roads (yes, there were some in the arid desert expanse), it feels familiarly dynamic.

This is the ultimate all-weather, all-terrain sports car. It's fast and dynamic, and stunningly predictable over unpredictable surfaces. An SUV may have more space and seats, but this side of a full-blown rock-climbing off-roader like a Defender or Land Cruiser, I'm not convinced you should want any soft-road SUV over this 911 Dakar.

Stunning conviction and brave spirit

Two new driving modes ensure plenty of fun when getting off the tarmac
Let's be honest - Porsche did not need to make this car. Porsche could have taken a bog standard 911, slap on some cool stickers and liveries, add a few emblems and badges here and there, call it a special edition, and that car would still likely sell out. It's not like the brand hasn't done it before, in fact you could argue that its something the brand does quite a lot.

But no, Porsche actually went through the engineering and financial investment to make a proper off-road 911, one that most buyers will almost certainly never take off-road. And somewhat expectedly and unsurprisingly from a brand that always seems to figure these things out, the car is fantastic to drive.

Rallying, at its heart but especially in the earlier days, demands a wild combination of sheer bravery and borderline insanity. These days, the vehicles are extreme 4x4s with sophisticated equipment, and even then accidents and DNFs are common. Imagine how intense it must have been like decades ago.

The 911 Dakar captures the wild spirit that has come to define rally driving
The 911 Dakar is no rally car, but it captures that essential rally spirit, the blend of bravado mixed with daftness. It's a wild car - adventurous, somewhat ludicrous, but undeniably joyful.

While it is a commendable off-road performance car, and certainly a big marketing push for the brand, the 911 Dakar is at its essential core a playful exercise in design and engineering freedom. It's a car Porsche did not need to make, but made all the more better because clearly the brand wanted to make it.

All for love

This is the 911 Dakar in its natural element, one that will likely never be seen by actual customer cars
It is also important to acknowledge and recognise the reality that this is a limited-edition model, destined to be locked up in collector garages around the world. It'll be absurdly expensive, but all 2,500 will still be snapped up in a heartbeat. If you're asking about the price (at least $1mil in Singapore), you're probably not even getting on the wait list. While the 911 Dakar is such an impressive feat of engineering, it is likely that absolutely zero customer cars will get the same amount of sand on the car as I did in Morocco.

Which leaves us in a slight conundrum. Is this a vanity project? Well, to a certain extent, I think it is. If customer demand and sales was at the forefront, we would have gotten a stickered-up Macan. No, this 911 Dakar, as much as it was made for the well-heeled collector, was also made for the people at Porsche. This project, in some shape or form, has been in the works for 11 years. And you can tell from the excitement of the people working on it - this is a culmination of effort, sure, but also bucket loads of excitement, enthusiasm and desire.

The 911 Dakar's audacious ambition and exemplary execution make it one of the most interesting and joyous cars to drive
But that is, perhaps, the thing I like the most about this car. It was made with love, for people who love it. It is selfish in execution (because only 2,500 will ever exist), but made with the most selfless of intentions.

The Porsche 911 Dakar is audacious in ambition, and exemplary in execution. The single greatest disappointment is that there will only be 2,500 in the world. Of the 26 911 variants currently available (yes, there are indeed 26, which is shocking yet not really), this is definitely the most interesting one, and one of the most exclusive ones too. I'd make the case that it's the one to have. 

The world needs more cars like this - driven by the purest distillation of passion, joy, and love.

Check out our video review of the new Porsche 911 Dakar! 

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porsche  911  911 dakar  porsche 911 dakar  dakar  off-road